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Do all 4-year-olds spend their time running around hitting things? Things like walls and chairs and fireplaces and their father’s shins and the fish tank? Because we’ve encountered a pretty consistent hitting issue with our 4-year-old, and we’re not sure where it’s coming from. Like many parents, we’ve taught for years that you don’t solve your problems with your fists (that’s what the light sabers are for).

Frankly, I’m not too bothered by the hitting of the walls, or of me (although the fish are getting a little anxious). It’s often accidental, I’m accustomed to it and it doesn’t hurt much, except the time he accidentally connected while holding one of his wooden Thomas trains, which, I am not going to lie, hurt like a Gordon. I’m pretty sure there’s still red paint on my teeth. We turned that into a Very Serious Lesson about resolving your issues calmly and patiently (and some words you’re not supposed to say when you’ve been hit in the teeth).

No, the hitting that worries me is directed toward other kids. For about a month, my son would sporadically arrive home with a sheet of paper his school titled, with delightful innocuousness, an UH OH REPORT. These sheets were usually a soft pink or an inviting daffodil-yellow, covered in cute clip art and, if I’m being honest, were pretty adorable. They looked like something that would hold an invitation to cupcakes or a worksheet on which you’d practice writing the word puppy.

So it was a little jarring to see they actually held news of of some recent episode of violence involving my child, such as the one that said, “Today, your son hit one of his friends in the face on the playground during a game of ‘Peter Pan.’ ” I have no idea what “Peter Pan” entails, but I don’t remember any scene in the movie in which two 4-year-olds beat the stuffing out of each other. Oh, hang on, I totally do. Actually, wait. There are like a thousand scenes in that movie where kids beat the stuffing out of each other. We should probably get back to this “Peter Pan” discussion.

Anyway, a while back we received an UH OH REPORT that began, and I quote, “Your son said he didn’t like how one of his friends was putting away toys, so he hit her lightly in the” and yeah this is basically where I stopped reading because my brain churned into action and said, “Wait, did that say ‘her,’ and did my son pop a little girl in the head today because he disapproved of her preferred cleaning routine?”

That, of course, led into something like, “Sweet raisin danish, what am I teaching my son?”

Needless to say, both UH OH REPORTS resulted in significantly epic time-outs at home, and, in the case of the latter, a revoking of most of the major privileges he was planning to enjoy over the next 14 years, including screen time, ice cream, sunlight and college.

But as it happened, neither UH OH ended up being the most troubling document to arrive during this stretch. That would be the one that came not on deceptively colorful paper, but a stark white one, letter-sized, no messing around. This was a BOO BOO BULLETIN, and here it was my son who had tasted cold fist. Someone had clocked him on the playground, leaving a little red bump on his face. (It couldn’t have been about his cleaning methods, as he does not have any.)

My wife and I tend to be reasonably understanding about such episodes. We’ve all been on playgrounds. It’s nice to imagine that children spend their outside time in pressure-free cocoons of safety and comfort and organized sport, but playgrounds are chaos. Things happen, children fall off monkey bars and kids get in fights — it’s all part of the Code of the Schoolyard that serves as a reasonably safe, guarded trial run for life as an adult.

But when we started asking our son how he got the BOO BOO, it quickly became apparent that he started the skirmish himself, and didn’t seem entirely upset about the idea that some other kid took the fall for it. Naturally, this resulted in more significant epic time-outs and more revoking. Happily, I think this lesson took, as it has been a few months, and the UH OH REPORTS have dried up. I’m chalking it up to an episode of a preschooler learning his way around the world, figuring out how to handle conflicts, understanding how to control his emotions and practicing how to not be a jerk before he grows up, when it will be too late. If he keeps showing us he can handle conflicts, he’ll even get his screen time back. Just not “Peter Pan,” obviously.

You can find Jeff Vrabel, a writer, @jeffvrabel and on jeffvrabel.com.

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